Timeline of the Organized Blind Movement

We invite you to dig deeper into the history of the organized blind movement from 1749 through the present day by reviewing the following timeline. It includes the founding of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940 in addition to other historical milestones that continue to shape and influence our work.


Denis Diderot publishes “A Letter on the Blind, for the Benefit of Those Who See,” demonstrating that blind people were capable of living productive and satisfying lives.


Valentin Haüy opens the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris.


Louis Braille, a pupil at the National Institute in Paris, completes his work on the tactile writing code that is named in his honor.


Schools for the blind open in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.


The American Association of Instructors of the Blind (AAIB) is founded, comprised mostly of administrators at schools for the blind.


Alumni from several schools for the blind join forces and found the American Blind People’s Higher Education and General Improvement Association.


Black and white photo of Dr. Newel Perry.With the efforts of Dr. Newel Perry, the New York legislature passes a bill to fund readers for blind college students.


After fruitless years of searching for work as a professor of mathematics, Dr. Newel Perry accepts a position at the California School for the Deaf and Blind in Berkeley.


President Woodrow Wilson signs the Smith-Fess Act, creating rehabilitation services for civilians with disabilities.

1932 (Unconfirmed)

A Braille magazine called All Story is founded, offering fiction and news items for blind readers.


Dr. Newel Perry and Dr. Jacobus tenBroek found the California Council for the Blind, an organization that enabled blind people to bring their concerns to the state legislature.


The federal Social Security Act is passed, containing a provision that funds state grants to aid the blind.


Congress passes the Randolph-Sheppard Act, granting blind people the exclusive privilege of operating vending stands on federal property.


Jacobus tenBroekDelegates from seven states gather in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to found a national organization of blind people, the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek becomes its first President.


Dr. Jacobus tenBroek takes a position in the speech department at the University of California, Berkeley.


Blindness agencies from around the world form the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind (WCWB).


All Story changes its name to Braille Monitor and becomes a publication that focuses on legislation and other issues affecting the blind community. Representative Walter S. Baring and Senator John F. Kennedy introduce the Right to Organize bills into Congress to ensure that blind people have the right to speak for themselves through their own organizations.


Dr. Kenneth Jernigan is hired to direct the Iowa Commission for the Blind. He builds the most innovative program for blind rehabilitation in the country.


The Federation formalizes a series of governing principles that had been implicit since the beginning. Several states choose to suspend their affiliation.


Due to factional strife within the Federation, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek resigns as President. John Taylor assumes the Presidency.


John Taylor resigns, and Perry Sundquist assumes the Presidency to complete his term. Russell Kletzing is elected President at the 1962 convention.


The International Federation of the Blind (IFB) is founded, and Dr. Jacobus tenBroek becomes its first President.


The Federation celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary. More than one hundred members of the United States Congress attend the convention banquet in Washington, DC. The first National Federation of the Blind scholarships are awarded.


Dr. Jacobus tenBroek is elected by acclamation to return to the Presidency of the NFB.


The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind (NAC) issues its first accreditations.


Portrait of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.Dr. Jacobus tenBroek dies, and Dr. Kenneth Jernigan becomes the next NFB President.


NFB members picket a NAC board meeting, beginning the practice of “NAC-tracking” that continues for the next ten years.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by any entity that receives more than $2,500 in federal funding per year. President Jernigan conducts the first NFB leadership seminar. Federationists gather to meet with representatives in the United States Congress during the first Washington Seminar.


The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (later known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA) states that children with disabilities must be educated in the least restrictive setting possible.


Dr. Kenneth Jernigan resigns from the Presidency due to ill health. Ralph Sanders assumes the Presidency.


Fully recovered, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan returns to the Presidency. The NFB purchases a warehouse in Baltimore, Maryland, which becomes the Federation headquarters.


The NFB begins publication of a newsletter for parents of blind children, which soon evolves into the quarterly magazine Future Reflections.


Parents of blind children form a division of the NFB, later called the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).


The IFB and the WCWB merge to form the World Blind Union (WBU).


Joanne Wilson founds the first NFB training center, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, in Ruston, Louisiana. The Diabetics Division of the NFB launches a quarterly publication called Voice of the Diabetic.


Headshot of Dr. Marc Maurer.Dr. Kenneth Jernigan steps down from the Presidency. Dr. Marc Maurer is elected to serve as President of the NFB. Joyce Scanlan establishes the second NFB training center, Blindness: Living in New Dimensions (BLIND, Inc.) in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Diane McGeorge opens the third NFB training center, the Colorado Center for the Blind, in Denver, Colorado.


Congress passes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), considered to be the most sweeping piece of civil rights legislation in United States history. The National Federation of the Blind celebrates its fiftieth anniversary.


The NFB publishes the first of thirty titles in the Kernel Book series.


Federation leaders help establish the world’s first professional training program based on the structured discovery approach to orientation and mobility at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana.


The NFB National Convention is dedicated to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who died in October 1998.


The NFB Jernigan Institute opens.


The NFB Jernigan Institute begins publication of the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, the world’s first professional journal published by and for blind people, parents, and teachers to address the real problems of blindness.


The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) adopts the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for People Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.


Mark A. Riccobono, c. 2014Dr. Marc Maurer chooses not to run for another term as NFB President. Mark A. Riccobono is elected to serve as President of the National Federation of the Blind.


The NFB celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary with a gala convention in Orlando, Florida.

More Information

For more information, we invite you to read Building the Lives We Want, a comprehensive ebook that was published as part of our seventy-fifth anniversary.